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'This moment in history demands it': Sweeping changes to budget, policy proposed for Austin police after protests
The Austin City Council is poised to order sweeping changes to police work, responsibilities and spending as early as this week, members said on Monday, a day after thousands marched peacefully to protest police brutality.
A package of resolutions addressing everything from the budget for the Austin Police Department to its staffing, from its use of force during arrests and protests to the very types of calls police should address, is up for a vote at the regular Austin City Council meeting Thursday.
"Our black and brown communities deserve it, our city needs it, and this moment in history demands it," said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, a member of the council's judicial committee, which sponsored the proposals.
Some of those measures, like bans on the use of tear gas in protests and limits on no-knock warrants, can go into effect right away, said Council Member Greg Casar, another committee member.
Others, including proposed staffing reductions and budget cuts at the Austin Police Department, won't be officially addressed until budget season later this year.
"These are not problems that can be fixed overnight, but the backlog is so big we can kick this journey off with a flurry of activities," said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who is also on the committee.
Several protesters were seriously injured during clashes with officers during the first week of demonstrations over the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and Michael Ramos in Austin in April.
Resolutions appearing on the agenda for Thursday's regular City Council meeting propose changes including police use-of-force reforms, an audit of Austin police disciplinary procedures, a rewrite of the department's general orders, capping police staff at current levels and redirecting those budget dollars to community-based prevention strategies. They also address housing for former inmates and other community issues.
The resolutions appear to have broad support of the council and Mayor Steve Adler. The press conference on Monday only included the four sponsors, and Adler, as open meetings laws prohibit a quorum of council members from meeting without public notice.
Garza and Casar, another member of the judicial committee, have both suggested that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley step down as an act of good faith and the first step toward systemic change in the department.
They and two others, including Judicial Committee Chairman Jimmy Flannigan, last week expressed criticism over Manley's handling of recent police protests—as well as heading up a department that they said is generally slow to respond to council directives. Manley joined the force in 1990 and became chief in 2018.
Asked Monday if they would be taking that further, members did not repeat their call for Manley to resign and noted that City Manager Spencer Cronk alone has the authority to decide whether Manley stays.
Cronk last week issued a statement in support of Manley and city officials told Austonia on Friday there is no movement afoot to replace him.
But one of the resolutions does include a statement of no confidence in department leadership.
"We can express our opinion, as many of us have, but we are prohibited in interfering in personnel decisions," Casar said.
Said Harper-Madison: "We're basically asking our manager to heed the concerns and recommendations of the community and our constituents regarding Chief Manley's future with the Austin Police Department."
The resolutions, which include Items 50, 93, 95, 96 and 97 on the agenda, can be found here. Changes will be addressed formally in the regular meeting of the Austin City Council on Thursday.
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Summertime sure does fly by, doesn't it? It's time to jam-pack as many summer activities as you can while there is still about a month left before school starts up again and the grind gets going. Luckily, Austin is full of places to visit that will fill your season full of memories.
To get you started, check out some of these seasonably-fit museums, galleries and snacks.
Beyond Van Gogh, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Like the name suggests, Beyond Van Gogh Austin takes visitors deeper into the Dutch painter's work by surrounding them in his post-impressionist world. Aptly taking place at the Starry Night Pavilion at the Circuit of the Americas, this immersive exhibit allows Vincent Van Gogh's masterpieces to be "freed from frames" as they are projected onto the walls and floors for guests to explore. Van Gogh's thoughts, dreams and words are set to a symphonic score to drive the narrative as you walk through the rooms, giving visitors insight into the tortured artist's swirly world. Adult tickets start at $46.99, children at $28.99 and it offers student and military discounts while the museum runs through Sept. 5.
Museum of Ice Cream, 11506 Century Oaks Terrace
The runaway hit from New York City has made its way to Austin, complete with a rainbow sprinkle pool, banana forest and bright-pink-everything exterior. The Museum of Ice Cream is a favorite of major celebrities—Beyoncé, Ryan Reynolds and the Kardashian Krew have all been spotted at the New York Location. The whimsical museum promises an undisclosed "Texas twist" at its new Austin location, which also has an on-brand café that serves Museum of Ice Cream original treats. You didn't think you'd leave without ice cream, did you? Tickets run $39 per person.
The Selfie Galleries, 3220 Amy Donovan Plaza
Looking for a place to get that perfect summer selfie? Look no further, because the newly-opened Selfie Galleries has 20 wildly decorated different rooms to roam through, capturing an unforgettable photo of yourself and your faves in each one. The backdrops were made so you can flex your creative muscle and make some documented memories at the same time. The gallery also hosts mixers for all age groups so you can meet local Austinites in a safe setting. Tickets start at $20 for an hour, $40 for two, depending on how many people you bring along.
Wonderspaces, 1205 Sheldon Cove
The self-proclaimed "new home for extraordinary art," Wonderspaces is an interactive art gallery like you've never experienced before. With rotating exhibits that you can touch, Instagram and ogle, the artwork is designed for everyone to create their own unique experience when visiting. Virtual reality, a house of mirrors, anonymous conversations and a dragon made of teabags are just a few of the wild installations that make this museum what it is—plus, you can enjoy some local brews at the Wonderspaces Bar. Adults can visit for $24, kids for $15 or you can get an annual pass for $99 and visit each new piece.
Milk Bar Bakery, delivery only
Maybe you want an experience without the outing. Thanks to ghost kitchens, the brainchild of Christina Tosi came all the way from The Big Apple to the Lone Star State. The well-celebrated Milk Bar Bakery is now available in Austin through third-party delivery only, meaning you can get the full line of milk bar cookies, bar pie, truffle crumb cakes and its famous layered birthday cakes through UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates only. If you haven't had these rich cookies yet, it's time to fire up that delivery app and get to ordering!
Soak up the rest of summer while you can!
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
The Biden administration is asking cities and states to use pandemic relief funds to pay residents $100 to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reaffirmed prohibitions on pandemic protocols in a new executive order issued on Thursday.
The order emphasizes that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates," according to a press release. It outlaws government entities from requiring employees to be vaccinated or individuals to provide proof of vaccination and upholds previous orders restricting government entities' ability to impose pandemic protocols.
Local public health and elected officials have asked all Austinites to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated individuals to avoid nonessential trips last week given the rising number of local confirmed cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks. But it is not enforceable under Abbott's order.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has more than quintupled since the beginning of July and is now 47.4. The threshold for Stage 5 is 50, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
Despite these trends, Abbott stands firm in his commitment to avoid new statewide mandates and to prohibit local government entities from issuing any of their own.
"Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."
Public health officials have attributed the current spike to the more contagious Delta variant and unmitigated spread among unvaccinated individuals. Abbott encouraged Texans to get vaccinated if they haven't already but affirmed that it would never be required by the state in his statement.
An increasing number of Austin-area employers—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, Facebook and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have announced new vaccine requirements in recent days. Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked the city manager to enact a similar requirement on Wednesday, but the city is unable to do so due to an executive order issued by Abbott in April.
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